World Oceans Day, 8 June 2016

It is hard not to be impressed by giant clams. In the wild, their size and unique color patterns make them one of the most captivating of sea creatures. Even the shells from dead clams have a powerful impact, one that speaks to their prominent place in the popular imagination about our oceans and the place of humans in them. Sadly, the beauty and cultural power inherent in these animals has helped bring them close to extinction from their natural habitat. Continue reading

Hunting Ground

The Museum acquired this triptych, Hunting Party (Barbeque Area), by Julie Gough in late 2014. The artwork was purchased along with an accompanying short film titled Hunting Ground incorporating Barbeque Area. Contemporary artworks like these challenge visitors to understand history from a different point of view, that of the artist’s perspective. Continue reading

A local adventure

As part of the Food Stories project, we’ve been working with Moonah Primary School in Hobart, and with Reuben Parker-Greer from the Museum of Old and New Art, or MONA. Reuben runs a scheme that supports kitchen garden initiatives at schools located near MONA, including Moonah Primary. As the National Museum and MONA share an interest in the amazing work that Moonah Primary has achieved in their school kitchen and garden, we decided to combine forces and embark on a unique learning journey that explored the dynamic food culture of the Moonah area. Continue reading

A ‘most wonderful piece of mechanism’: Dent Marine Chronometer No 53862

Friday 17 August 1906. The Galilee, once the fastest clipper on the Pacific Ocean and now a research vessel for the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) on its second scientific voyage, lies on its side in Yokohama Harbour, the victim of a savage typhoon. On board is some of the latest scientific and navigational equipment, including four marine chronometers. By Saturday evening, the vessel was righted and all the equipment saved. One of the chronometers – Dent two-day marine chronometer No 53862 – is now in the collection of the National Museum of Australia. How did it get there? Continue reading

What bird is that?

Bird Week 2015, 19-23 October, is an initiative of BirdLife Australia, with the aim of inspiring Australians to take action and get involved in bird conservation efforts. This week, as many people take part in the Aussie Backyard Bird Count, they’re likely to ask: ‘What bird is that?’ Generations of Australians have answered that question with a copy of the book What bird is that? in hand, inspired and guided by the work of Neville W Cayley.

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a river story…

Last weekend, as the sun dropped behind the Murrumbidgee River at Narrandera in southern New South Wales, hundreds of people gathered to watch Haunting, a major projection artwork developed by the Museum’s artist-in-residence Vic McEwanHaunting considers the dramatic transformation of the Murrumbidgee region and much of southern Australia from grassland and bush into a modern agricultural landscape, and the still unfurling consequences of past actions for people, other species, places and climate. The performance was part of the On Common Ground arts festival, an initiative of Vic and Sarah McEwan’s The Cad Factory and the local community. Continue reading

The ‘Magnetic Crusade’. An international scientific endeavour represented in Australia’s National Historical Collection

Introduction

Almost 100 years ago, at the height of the First World War, a small party of scientists from the Department of Terrestrial Magnetism (DTM) in Washington, led by Wilfred Charles Parkinson and William Fisher Wallis, travelled across south-west Australia seeking a suitable location for a magnetic observatory. They finally settled on a site at Watheroo, about 225 kilometres north of Perth. The instrument they used in their search – theodolite-magnetometer CIW-18 – is now in Australia’s National Historical Collection (NHC), where it represents a significant part of Australia’s, and the world’s, scientific heritage. Continue reading

World Mosquito Day: microscopes and wedding dresses

World Mosquito Day commemorates the discovery that female Anopheles mosquitoes transmit malaria between humans, made by British medical researcher Sir Ronald Ross on 20 August 1897. Since that day, researchers across the world have sought to understand mosquitoes and their role as vectors, developing methods to prevent and control the spread of disease. The material culture created in response to the mosquito reflects the wide ranging interests of scientific endeavour, environmental adaptations and social paradigms in Australia and across the world.

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Experimenting with Place

What meanings arise when we return historic objects to the active terrains that marked and shaped them? Over the past couple of weeks, during one of the coldest Canberra winters in a decade or more, I’ve been working at night with Vic McEwan on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River, where pioneering wheat breeder William Farrer undertook experiments that helped transform the grassy woodlands of southern Australia into modern farmland.  Continue reading